AFTER (HANDMAID'S TALE RECAP)
First off...COCKADOODIE. Commander Devil Fred lives in defiance of the natural laws of explosions.
We open on an intricate Handmaid mass funeral. I mean, we’ve got scarlet coffins, face veils, black wings. We’ve got it all down here at the Handmaid Emporium, apparently. Say what you will about Gilead, but they do value a spectacle. Aunt Lydia runs the remaining Handmaids through the funeral rites for their dead sisters, during which she spouts off about duty and names the dead women as Ofzev, Oftyler, Ofryan, and so forth. Back in the red van, Offred and the other girls whisper about the casualties: 26 commanders and 31 Handmaids. Offred remarks that she never knew Ofglen’s real name, and no one did. They drive past bodies hanging from trees (apparently Ofglen’s whole household was executed.) Pleasant!
Meanwhile, Devil Fred lays in a hospital bed, in and out of consciousness. Commander Cushing, who is even more devilish than Fred (he basically looks like the Deviled Ham devil), comes into tell Serena and Nick that Commander Pryce, formerly known as Head Bitch in Charge and Nick’s bff, died in the explosion. Cushing also says he’s the new Head Bitch in Charge.
We cut to the Colonies and some more cockadoodie plot machinations. Because of the mass casualty event, Emily and Janine, among others, are going to be pressed back into service as Handmaids. This is some ripe bullshit. First off, both are disobedient. Secondly, they’ve been in the radioactive Colonies for a hot minute--who knows what that’s done to their baby making machinery? But now the writers can bring back some important characters. COCKADOODIE.
We also cut to Little America, where Moira and Luke wait to hear about the attack in Gilead. Moira is worried about Offred, but Luke has faith that she’s alive. Then we enter into the flashbacks, which center on Moira and her decision to act as a surrogate for a nice English couple who are willing to pay $250,000 for a baby. That’s a freaking lot of money. Back in real time, Moira asks to find out about her fiance, rounded up before the war. The consulate lady takes her into a room full of binders filled with the dead of America. We learn in the flashbacks that Odette was Moira’s OBGYN when she was carrying the baby. June helps her through the pregnancy, although she acts like a bit of an asshole, almost shaming Moira about her decision. I was annoyed that they had to tie Moira’s story to June so heavily. It bugged. Moira pages through the binders, of which there are many, and relives her pregnancy, giving the baby Gavin to his parents, and later meeting Odette outside the clinic and charming her. It’s sad and good, and Samira Wiley remains a treasure. Eventually, she finds Odette in one of the binders, shot dead in the snow.
Back in Crazytown, Offred is questioned by Commander Deviled Ham Cushing, not just about the bombing, but also about her “kidnapping.” She tows the line, sticking to the kidnapping yarn. Outside we hear sirens, and Rita is clearly on edge. Cushing is just villianing left, right, and center. He has dark and power-grabby inclinations. He also has it in for Devil Fred, perhaps wanting to be the most devilish in all the land. He leaves, and Offred watches out the window as Guardians shot a Martha in the street, to the sound of barking German shepherds. I think the show must be a cat person. It’s upsetting and terrible.
Offred comes to visit Fred and Serena, and Serena expresses her displeasure with the reign of terror Cushing has instituted. Offred’s presence rouses Fred out of his mini-coma for just long enough for him to remark on her size (just like a real son of a bitch). Offred leaves and makes out with Nick in the hall because they are stupid assholes. I mean, really. There are people and Eyes all over the place and these two are just slobbering all over. Offred also makes the Martha’s shooting all about her in a real self-centered way. She gives Nick the heads up about Cushing poking into her disappearance, and Nick agrees that is bad news. He tells her he’s not going to let anything bad happen to her...which...okay, dude. Remember all the torture in the first episode? ALSO way to have a savior complex, you beetle browed bro!
That night, Offred sits at the table, waiting for Serena to get home. Serena enjoys some brown liquor, and talks about how terrible Cushing was even before they violently overthrew the government together. That’s the problem with being a fanatic: you have to endure tropical vacations with some pretty repugnant people. Offred tells her about Cushing’s visit and reminds Serena that Ofglen’s family was executed in mass, just to raise the stakes. She basically manipulates Serena into action.
And does this bitch take action? WHY YES SHE DOES. First of all, she sends Nick’s baby bride away and sits in his dark apartment, waiting to question him on some paperwork matters. She wants to know about filing a warrant to the Consular of Divine Law, whatever the fuck that grand position may be. Nick says yes, but also they need a signature. Serena is like, oh, don’t you worry.
The next day, Cushing shows up at the Waterfords, as Offred looks out the window and Serena stands in the doorway. What should happen except an Eye Van rolling up and hustling Cushing away for treason, based on the evidence submitted by the Eyes. Clearly Serena knows that Nick is an Eye himself, which makes all her secret pregnancy plots even more risky. The women are very pleased with themselves.
Offred goes shopping and Eden is there being a dipshit as usual. Who should grab her but Janine, who is just as giddy about it all as you might imagine. Emily is there, too, considerably less excited than Janine. Offred tells her her real name, and then leads the rest of the Handmaids in the shop in sharing their real names. They will not be buried as Offred or Ofrobert or Ofdeven or whatever. Ofalbert. You get the gist. It’s a cool moment that feels transplanted from season one, back when the show was a little more about the granular details and less about blow-em-ups and various plots. It feels like one of the small uplifting moments from last season that were affecting.
Back in Little Canada, we learn that Ofglen’s real name was Lillie Fuller as they release the names of the Handmaids that were killed. Moira mourns Odette, of whom she somehow has a picture? I was like, maybe Facebook is still up and running and she printed it at Canadian Walgreens.
Serena calls Offred downstairs, straight into Devil Fred’s mancave. Offred is understandably nervous, and Serena monologues about her drafts of new security orders. She wants things to get back to normal--she wants to cut back on the police state to normal dystopian police state levels. She asks/tells Offred that she was an editor, and asks her to read over the drafts for her. Serena wants to be back in the driver’s seat, making policy. Offred looks scared, but then tells Serena she needs a pen. We get some grade A pen pornography as she lovingly fingers Fred’s pens, and we close on the image of Serena behind the desk and Offred clicking the ballpoint just like Ofglen clicked the detonator. (We also get an insane music cue: “Venus.” You know, from the razor commercials and also the 1960s? Like, what the what the what, show.)
It’s important to remember that the punishment for reading/writing is getting your hand amputated. What’s the punishment for forging policy documents? We’ve known for a while that Serena enjoys power, and she’s been limited by the system she helped create, effectively pushed out of power just as all her grand plans came into fruition. She could have stopped with getting Cushing arrested, but that’s not enough for her. She wants more, more, more.
I’m struck again by the way that Offred is suffering from protagonist-itis. We have to watch Moira’s backstory with her hanging around, humblebragging about her marriage and baby she got to keep (for a little while) and being pretty insensitive to Moira’s actual situation. She gets to be extra soulful and wounded by the funeral and the Martha’s killing, much like she escaped the bulk of the punishment the other Handmaids endured. Protagonist-itis looks a lot like privilege, from a certain distance.
I want to return briefly to the obvious string pulling of the writers. Fred’s not dead, Janine and Emily escape the Colonies--all of this is unsatisfying because it is either unearned or illogical. Stuff like this should be viewed as big, flashing neon saying: danger. Danger! Danger. Narrative manipulation kills stories, and as the show is out in unknown territory, it should make us nervous. (Or maybe not, but it makes me nervous.) Let’s keep the cockadoodie to a minimum, okay?